The Reckoningby Published 23 Oct 2018
John Grisham returns to Clanton, Mississippi, to tell the story of an unthinkable murder, the bizarre trial that follows it, and its profound and lasting effect on the people of Ford County.
Pete Banning was Clanton's favorite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbor, and a faithful member of the Methodist church. Then one cool October morning in 1946. he rose early, drove into town, walked into the Church, and calmly shot and killed the Reverend Dexter Bell. As if the murder wasn't shocking enough, it was even more baffling that Pete's only statement about it—to the sheriff, to his defense attorney, to the judge, to his family and friends, and to the people of Clanton—was "I have nothing to say." And so the murder of the esteemed Reverend Bell became the most mysterious and unforgettable crime Ford County had ever known.
The Reckoning Reviews
Somewhat of a departure for Grisham, though his recent books The Rogue Lawyer and The Rooster Bar haven't perfectly fit the mold of "legal thriller" (which he pretty much created) either. This one is about a World War II hero named Pete Banning who kills the preacher Dexter Bell for reasons unkown. Suspense in the novel is two-fold. Question one, will Pete be executed for his crime, and two, will we ever learn his motive? I found the first part of the novel, which deals with question one, to be very suspenseful, and I stayed up reading the first half of the book the first night I cracked it open. The answer to the question of motive, which is the driving force to the second half of the book, I found less satisfying.
It seemed like Grisham wanted us to believe in Pete Banning as a war hero, but even during his heroic story arc, he's not a great person. He's apart from his family for three years and makes only minimal effort to contact them. Though the end of the book isn't happy for anyone, Pete's punishment and the ripple effect his crime has on the next generation seems ultimately just.
Seperately, it was refreshing to read a World War II book that largely ignored the Nazis and Hitler, but the words "Japs" and "Nips" were used too much. I didn't know what would be lost by just calling the enemy "Japanese" and not having the characters refer to them in dialogue. Race and Racism is a theme here, and race plays a role in the tragedy at the center of the book, but to say the tragedy is caused by anything other than Pete's selfishness and self-righteousness is a stretch.
This is a sweeping saga recalling the finest Southern Gothic tradition. "The Reckoning" is a captivating story penned in gorgeous prose with full-bodied characters and a vivid sense of place.
A tale to take pleasure from and in which to lose yourself.
Part One - The Killing:
On October 9, 1946 in Clanton, Ford County, Mississippi Pete Banning, a decorated war hero and prominent citizen, awakens early and calmly goes about his morning routine. He then drives into town, walks into the Methodist and shoots and kills Reverend Dexter Bell.
All he says to anyone, including his lawyer, is, "I have nothing to say."
With Pete's motivation unknown and no defense, the case goes to jury trial, as per Pete's wishes.
The county prosecutor loves it.
We are shown how Pete's family, his children Joel and Stella along with his sister, Florry, struggle in the aftermath of the trial.
Now with their Mom, Liza, already committed to a mental hospital for reasons they do not know, Joel and Stella are left to wonder at what's happened to their family.
Part Two - The Boneyard:
This section is a war story recounting Pete's harrowing experiences in the Philippine jungles. The Battle of Bataan. The death march. The death camp. Guerrilla warfare.
We get a feel for how these experiences will shape and affect him upon his return home.
It's full of danger, horror and action. Gripping.
Part 3 - The Betrayal:
We continue to follow the Banning family's turmoil in the wake of Pete's trial.
There are mounting legal troubles and some fine courtroom drama. (C'mon, it's Grisham!).
There's Joel and Stella's quest to find out why their Mom is at Whitfield Asylum.
When they discover this, it will lead them to their father's motivations for doing what he did.
Killing Dexter Bell.
Pete Banning's reasons for his actions and the real story might not be the same thing.
A narrative of tragedy and scandal beautifully told.
This is fiction at its best. A suspenseful tale of family to become engrossed in and to savor. Enjoy!
This was an ARC Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.
Very interesting and entertaining storyline full of factual information about the Philippians during WWII . The first part of the novel is about a murder and the war storyline is given as background about one of the fascinating characters in this book. John Gresham never disappoints and his in depth research provides factual information about whatever the storyline may be.
The latest novel by John Grisham, The Reckoning (release date October 23), is a sprawling and enthralling read set in the Ford County of A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row, etc. By setting this story of murder and Gothic-esque family drama in the county most familiar to longtime Grisham readers, The Reckoning mixes the pleasures of familiarity with the new, experimental territory upon which the writer embarks. If anything, this novel is certainly not Grisham on auto-pilot.
This will likely be the most divisive Grisham release in some time, if ever. The author playfully mixes up and challenges the courtroom drama standard he set, choosing to tell the story in an almost non-linear fashion. At the heart of this novel is the question: What makes a beloved war hero and successful small-town sharecropper murder his pastor in cold blood? The consequences set in motion by the murder — which happens in the first chapter, and is mentioned in the synopsis — are gritty and cold and real. Grisham’s focus is not so much the legal system (though it does play a part), but the dissolving of two American families.
This reader respects Grisham for shaking things up and penning what could be the darkest, and most literary, novel of his career. I certainly did not see it coming. If 2017’s The Rooster Bar was a slick crowd pleaser, The Reckoning is a raw challenge . . . one of which William Faulkner, perhaps, would be a fan.
Thanks to Doubleday Books for the free hardcover copy of this book, which was given in exchange for an honest review.
I really enjoy John Grisham's books, and I did enjoy The Reckoning. It just wasn't one of my favorites of his. Grisham is a great writer, and so the way the story was told helped keep my interest.
The first part of the book is about Pete Banning, who is a cotton farmer in Mississippi in the late 1940s after WWII. He is a decorated war hero, who was presumed dead for two years, before returning home injured after escaping the Japanese and working with some guerilla warriors in the Philipines. After having a final breakfast with his sister, Florry, at her house adjoining his farm, Pete goes to the Methodist preacher's office and shoots him in cold blood. Pete turns himself in and refuses to mount a defense as to why he gunned down this pillar of the community. He will not explain his actions to anyone. We go through the trial and sentencing. Pete's wife is in a mental institution. His children are away at college and haven't seen their mother since she was committed two years ago. Pete doesn't want them anywhere near his trial.
The second part of the book goes back and describes Pete's early life and how he met and fell in love with his wife. Then we hear in great detail, the ordeal Pete went through during his time in the war.
The third part of the book is about Pete's family, back after his trial, trying to pick up the pieces. There are wrongful death lawsuits, and many other issues to be overcome. But mostly everyone (including the reader) wants to know why Pete did what he did.
Yes, there is a surprise ending. What you think the reason for Pete's murderous rampage was, is kind of correct, but not really. I just didn't think the twist at the end warranted all the pages and pages of the middle section. Although I learned a great deal about the war in the Philipines, the Bataan death march, and how cruel the Japanese were. Maybe that was Grisham's point. He just wanted to write a WWII book, and this is how he did that.
I have no problem with it and enjoyed the read. Just don't expect his typical courtroom drama. And, really, it's been a while since he's written one of those, I think? A good writer can make any subject entertaining, and Grisham has succeeded.